Posts Tagged ‘jordan malone

05
Sep
18

Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening

Underground Broadway

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

August 23 – September 8 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

A Children’s Tragedy…

 

What serves each of us best is what serves all of us…

 

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening, based on the controversial drama by Frank Wedekind, written in 1891 though not staged until 1906 (and not performed in English until 1917 in New York City, when it was deemed pornographic and closed after just one show), successfully opened on Broadway in 2006.

 

Directed by Michael Mayer and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, the acclaimed original production went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Original Score and Best Musical, and launched the careers of Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff as Wendla and Melchior, doomed teens drawn to each other in a world where parents, ministers and teachers smother that next generation in silence and shame. With its themes of puberty, fantasy, masturbation, depression, death, grief, sex, suicide, abuse, forced teen abortion, control and censorship (ironically, the 2006 Tony Award performance was heavily censored!), it’s no wonder schools opt to stay away from this dark show. Originally much darker, since the NYC workshops preceding the Broadway opening, there’s no longer a rape implied at the end of Act 1. Instead, this issue, as prevalent as ever, is addressed by Ilsa (Ruby Clark, lovely in this role, proving her versatility after a couple of turns at Maureen in RENT and Rizzo in Grease: The Arena Experience), and Martha (Jordan Malone, back after Understudy Productions’ BARE and next, joining the professional touring cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) in The Dark I Know Well.

 

 

Tim Hill’s Spring Awakening opens innocently, quietly and gently leading us into the sneaky little showstopper, a highlight of this production, Mama Who Bore Me, featuring the entire fierce female contingent of this stellar cast from Underground Broadway, coming together in solidarity to stomp and sing and state their place, i.e. their confusion and frustration as young women in the world without the knowledge they need to stay safe and strong. Ruby Clark, Jordan Malone, Jacqui McLaren, Monique Dawes and Maddison McDonald are uniformly excellent in this powerful and inspiring anti-anthem of the sisterhood. We get the sense that nothing can stop them but…

 

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH

 

Jacqui Mclaren (Wendla) elicits shivers in her first simple moments on the small Sue Benner stage, sitting as still as a porcelain doll, seemingly just as fragile, but not, building up the courage to ask Mama to let her in on the secrets of life, and later discovering the ecstasy and horror for herself. In McLaren’s take on Wendla we see the embodiment of the maiden archetype and sadly – spoiler – she never has the chance to fully embrace that energy, or to get a look in on the mother or crone. 

 

Not condoning or encouraging any more boot Broadway footage online ever, of course, but watch Deaf West’s opening minutes here to experience additional layers to this and every other scene. Seriously. Deaf West will change your musical theatre life.

 

 

No more spoilers, but Mclaren is missing a final scream of terror as she’s taken away; this omission is likely the director’s call. There are other missteps, including a slap across the face that fails to make us squirm, the birch branch caning that  fails to make us gasp, and a gunshot represented by a snap to black, without the sound effect…a-hem. Chekhov, anyone? Even with Wes Bluff’s lights, Ben Murray’s sound and choreography by Deanna Castellana, sans these disturbing images, some of the pivotal moments, landing like stones in the pit of our stomachs, this production lacks a little intensity. I came away with a similar feeling after Hill’s RENT. Is it just me? Is it just a matter now though, of trusting the actors to delve deeper, push further, play around a little more, take a little more time in the process to discover the full extent of the breath, and the actual natural responses and timing for the stage? This does take time, a careful eye and brave hearts – guts – all round. Despite its slightly lighter, nicer treatment (others will certainly consider it a shocking show, sure, of course), Spring Awakening is undoubtedly Hill’s most astute direction to date, with Act 1 offering the most attention to detail. Having said that, the reprise of The Word of Your Body and the fraught scene embedded within Whispering are both beautifully precise. Dominic Woodhead’s musical direction perfectly supports both the upbeat and more measured, melancholy pieces.

 

Elise Grieg affirms her place towards the top of the Brisbane tree, playing every female adult (as Melchior’s mother, refreshingly real), and as every male adult, James Shaw demonstrates again that he can play the pious, the ridiculous and the serious with aplomb. Their elderly scholarly characters are deliberately larger than life, terrifying and amusing in that sickening what-are-you-gonna’-do-about-it way. I don’t love them; it could be considered another missed opportunity to highlight the subtle horror of the reality these kids are in, no need for caricatures but instead, an undercurrent…

 

Meanwhile, poor Moritz.

 

 

Oliver Lacey is a properly despairing and angst-ridden Moritz in the best British punk rock way (at the root of anger and sadness there is fear), Michael Nunn a beautiful, sensitive Ernst and Tim Carroll a delightfully wicked and seductive, street smart Hanschen. Harrison Aston, fresh from 8 months of touring life with Brainstorm Productions, has a distinctly Credence look and manner about him, as he navigates his way through the mire of adult expectations. Not a single member of this company goes as far as they can go, but this slightly sanitised staging is typical of what we’ve been seeing for a little while again, in fact, since Oscar Production Co was Oscar Theatre Co, and presented both Spring Awakening and Next to Normal in the most nonchalant and quietly confident way, challenging performers and patrons to take a good, hard look at themselves – ourselves – by taking those stories into a place of extreme discomfort. If you were there, you know. If not, if you’re a snapchatcat/millenial, perhaps this Spring Awakening is the most disturbing, and darkly exciting and challenging thing you’ve seen in a theatre. And that’s fine. 

 

 

Claire McFadyen’s beautifully realised Tim Burton-esque silently screaming lightbulb tree also points to the desire of this company to really provoke, and like the maiden / crone optical illusion, we can only see what we see in it, in the same way we each have our unique experience of every live show. So I want to be clear that it’s not a case of the talent not being evident, but of the impact of the storytelling falling short of expectations.

 

I feel like we’ve seen the prelude now; this year has been just the beginning for this company, and for these performers, who are able and probably willing, to go deeper and darker yet. Whether Tim Hill is prepared to take them there, or go there himself remains to be seen. There’s no denying that Underground Broadway has been blurring the lines between amateur and professional performance with regular industry nights since 2016 featuring professional performing artists and local emerging stars, making this company well worth following.

 

We’re certainly ready for what’s next.